How not to be a lousy listener, by Zena James and Dick Mullender (Elite Listening expert)

Why is that some meetings and conversations are so frustrating? Why do we emerge feeling like no-one listened properly? Was it you, was it them? If you didn't persuade others to do what (you thought) you were asking for, it might just be that your own 'listening habits' need a re-think...

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Most people reckon they’re a good listener. But all too often what we actually find ourselves doing is hurrying others along, asking too many questions (ones that feed our own agenda but don't let the other person reveal anything useful towards the end goal), interrupting frequently and winding up irritated and short of answers.

We’re often just biding our time until we can get our own point across. We all do it, but rarely admit it.

Know what you’re listening for
One reason for not having satisfying meetings or conversations with the boss, the team or a client is that we haven't actually stopped to think about what we’re listening for. The secret is to understand the other person’s values, especially if they’re ‘difficult people’. Find out what matters to them and how can you tap into it. If you listen properly, you’ll find out very quickly what makes that person tick and what they need from you. The skill is in the interpretation, yet we’re often too busy planning the next question, applying our own judgement or following our own agenda – we don’t take note of what’s really being said or the meaning of it. If you find out their values, you’re more likely to gain their trust.

Understand motivation
We can be guilty of imagining that everyone has the same values as we do. We’re great gatherers of information, but often useless at turning that information into intelligence. We take shortcuts to make our lives easier. We make huge assumptions about what people really mean. Try this: write down what you mean by the word ‘interesting’ and then ask six other people do the same thing. Notice how different the definitions are.

Let them talk
Don’t continually ask questions, jump in with advice or, in a negotiation, give yourself away. Use killer opening lines and be patient (and clever) enough to let them keep talking. Our language and tone (not our body language) is what quickly betrays us. Useful ‘hooks’ will begin to appear and layers of important information will emerge. In a tricky negotiation you need access to the other person’s mindset without their knowledge. Only then can you really start to influence their actions. It’s good listening, not speaking, that allows you to be the most persuasive in the end.

Listening well is tough. A wise listener builds more productive relationships with colleagues, solves problems more quickly, and understands assignments better. And elite-level listening doesn’t just equip you to have more productive conversations in business, it equips you for most practical and emotional challenges in life.

Dick Mullender teaches listening at Eyes Wide Opened (come to his ‘Elite Listening’ workshop on 2 Dec, 6.30 - 9.30pm, NW1 - ) and runs his own listening training business for corporate and executive education clients. He was lead trainer at the National Crisis and Hostage Negotiation Unit, Scotland Yard, and has trained staff at the Met Police, the UN and the FBI.

Zena James

Writer, Eyes Wide Opened, -

Zena and the team at Eyes Wide Opened are on a mission to help people become crystal clear about what really makes them tick, what they have to offer an employer and how they can offer it. They set aside the less helpful 'What do you want to do?' and ''What job are you looking for?' questions (which can only really be answered if you have an inbuilt career path GPS) and instead help people find the answers to 'Who are you?', 'What do you stand for?' and 'What really matters to to you?' Eyes Wide Opened - - was founded in 2011 by Alastair Creamer, a leading figure in creative training (Catalyst, Creamer and Lloyd) and Paul Preston, a former Unilever chairman and global talent & HR leader. The duo developed a series of intensive, practical and reflective courses for people at a career crossroads with input from businesses on what they're really looking for from their recruits. The eight coaches have eclectic backgrounds spanning business, the voluntary sector, the arts, academia and even Scotland Yard! ------------------ Web: Twitter: @ewopened Facebook: Eyes Wide Opened